What’s Under Foot

Check out the latest looks in tile, vinyl, hardwood and carpet.

A woman in the midst of redecorating her home walked into a flooring store and made a beeline to the hardwood section. En route, a display of “wood” flooring caught her eye. The color was warm brown, the texture had a rustic appeal, and as she picked up the “board” she discovered it was cold, heavy and, well, not what she expected.  A deception, an illusion, call it what you may, the product that caught her eye looked exactly like hardwood until she touched it and realized it was tile.

Hardwood floors have long been symbolic of luxury, elegance and expense. So when tile manufacturers introduced a product that looked like wood, but was more durable and affordable, consumers responded. Walk down the aisles of local flooring stores, and you’ll encounter tiles from Italy, China, Spain and other countries that look like cherry, oak, acacia, chestnut and maple. Even more amazing is the detailed wood grain depicted in the tile’s pattern, right down to the appearance of an oval knot or slightly raised surface.

To simulate the look of wood flooring, these tiles are cut long and lean, measuring 6 inches by 24 inches or 36 inches—more in tune with a wood plank than a piece of tile. When installed, they make up a floor that could fool even a lumberjack.

One way to create these tiles is through the use of digital printing. With the help of technology, manufacturers are producing what’s called high-definition porcelain tiles; they not only resemble, but also capture the innate beauty of natural stone, marble, slate and, of course, wood.

As you move through a store’s tile section, you’ll notice that oversize tiles—10 inches by 20 inches or 12 inches by 24 inches—are the rage. The large rectangular shapes, with linen, bamboo and metallic characteristics, lend themselves to a contemporary look. Even more elegant are the tiles with a wave- or linear-textured design, featuring color variations from light gray to charcoal to ebony, or white to beige to almond.

Another flooring material, one that lost its dignity over the years, has resurfaced under the name “luxury vinyl tile.” Expect to see this flexible, durable style of flooring, which works so well in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms, reappearing in the marketplace. This time you’ll find it in fashionable wood patterns, ranging from oak and pine to sycamore and cedar. It’s also manufactured to look like stone and ceramic tile. Warmer to the foot and easier to clean, this vinyl tile is a practical solution, reborn as an attractive flooring option.

However, for the true hardwood-floor lover who can afford the real deal, the offerings are exciting. Think of a distressed wood flooring, beautifully marked to look worn just enough so your guest’s stiletto heel can leave its mark and no one will know. These planks are hand scraped by artisans who use tools to scuff, sand, gouge and dent each piece in an effort to create texture and show off the beauty of the wood’s grain. When the floor is laid, you can see how each board’s pattern is completely different.

Another method is to mechanically scrape the boards, which leaves the patterns or waves in each board more uniform. When the light hits the floor at a certain angle, an overall pattern can be seen, as opposed to the hand-scraped boards where there is no consistent pattern. For those who want more refinement in their hardwood flooring, there’s the beveled edge. Each board’s edge is cut at an angle to eliminate any chance of a harsh, raised edge appearing between the planks.

Besides texture, hardwood flooring has undergone a transformation in the size of the planks. Look at the wood floors in a historic home and they’re probably made up of narrow boards. Today’s wider planks measure 4 inches, 6 inches and 8 inches. Some flooring is designed to mix the sizes, so the end result is even more intriguing.

The types of materials now available for flooring have increased, too. Among all the traditional hardwood on display, you’ll find a few surprises:  soft, cushion-like cork; old reclaimed wood from wine barrels and barns; and the popular bamboo, which is actually a grass.

For homeowners who prefer something warm and fuzzy under their feet, carpeting is alive and well. Geometric patterns remain popular with raised squares, pinpoints and subtle swirls creating textured interest. Gray is the new beige, and the variety of shades—some with hints of green and blue—is a refreshing alternative. As for comfort, you can expect softer, thicker carpeting to cushion your toes. Manufacturers are adding more fibers to their products to pump up the structure and life of the carpeting. 

Getting your Floor Right
Hardwood flooring is a significant investment. To protect it, you’ll need to install a moisture barrier between the concrete and the wood. Vinyl is considered an excellent barrier; plastic sheathing also is popular. Discuss the moisture barrier with your installer before starting your project.

If tiles are more your style, you’ll have to deal with grout lines. A good rule of thumb is to choose the darkest shade of grout you can live with. Lighter shades show dirt.

Thick, plush carpeting feels great under bare feet. If your new carpeting and padding is higher than the flooring you just ripped out, your doors may not move freely. Simply remove the doors and shave them down slightly.

Categories: Decorating, Home Improvement